Alpha? I Nearly Beta
A Games Industry Mystery
by Abrahamo Linconi
09202003

 


PART 1: The Pre-Rendered Intro Sequence

Welcome to the wondrous, certifiably fucked world of the video game biz. Or, at least, that was what I thought every morning as I stumbled out of bed, made a half-assed attempt to springload the toaster with moldy bread, and wandered aimlessly out of the door, onward and upward, on the 15-minute hearse ride to work.

It was easy to spot where Devilfish Software’s offices were. It was the motley collection of Jay and Silent Bobs smoking outside which really gave it away. As wide-eyed, immaculately-dressed accountants sidled past to their own offices in the high-rise, their backs to the wall, the black-clad, alternately wannabe-goth and already-geek occupants of Devilfish’s cubes got their air for the day – albeit nicotine-stained air. They looked, well, happy - being let out of the fishbowl for a few seconds, gulping on some deliciously flavored death sticks, gossiping about the latest enticing imports (Japanese GameCube, temp agency into reception.) I was pretty tempted to take up smoking, just to meet new friends and influence people.

But I wouldn’t, at least, not yet. That might interfere with my work time. And my work, although testing, was also, well, about testing. I was the co-ordinator of the small test-lab at Devilfish – the link, if you will, between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the Neanderthals and the Creators, the bug-spotters and the bug-squashers. Sure, I was looked up at in the grimy world of testing, but in the heady world of development? Just a peon.

Sometimes, though, I was a little more crucial – the veritable Missing Link. And while Devilfish’s new title was way past Beta and looking to lock down gold master - before the financial quarter ended, our publisher’s projected revenues plummeted, and their goodwill towards us completely evaporated? I was the crucial on-site link to all the glitches our small in-house team could find. Oh, and all the garbled, incomprehensible, semi-filled-in bugs the large publisher-based test team could fax us. I secretly suspected their test lab was located in some kinda of madhouse – probably a non-English-speaking one, possibly located in an era in which computers were some kind of palpable magick. Still, on the testing island of the blind, the one-eyed test manager is king – especially the one-eyed test manager who could screen their external bugs and pretend that we’d found the choicest ones ourselves.

But, onward and upward. First stop? My cluttered cube, filled with print-outs, last year’s McFarlane toys, a wrestling poster here and there, the requisite set of freebie, ugly-ass T-shirts, and any other number of clichéd cube contents. If I liked Gilbert and Sullivan or lusted some Pedro Almodovar lobby cards in my own personal space? Not a good idea. Only by embracing the mainstream could you catch the attention of the higher-ups, and graduate to assistant producer, the next rung on the ladder to Hell. I was very keen to get there – it sounded airy, and devilish, and positively schmooze-some.

Looking on the desk, I spotted some of the more exotic bug reports from last night. The ever-comedic Justin had tried to slip one in – ‘Spilled Pepsi on controller, stuck going in circles, could reproduce, up to the point I ran out of Pepsi.’ Well, at least he tried to reproduce the bug, although it probably wasn’t one of the more crucial ones Sony would be looking for. More likely to upset the higher-ups were a few holes in the world, a mashing-buttons-while-loading glitch, and a true show-stopper involving activating in-game powers and then triggering cut-scenes. Max would love to see this. Love it, then fling it at the wall, gibbering maniacally. Why did I love giving him bad news so much?

Max, you see, was the lead coder on the project. You could tell he was the lead coder by the large amount of facial hair, plus the tiny amount of actual head hair he sported on his not-inconsiderable frame. Some said his hair was ripped out by himself, then liberally re-applied to the cheeks. Others said little, scared that Max would rip their head off and liberally apply the gushing bloodflow to his cheeks and general person. I could see their point – he didn’t mean to be, but he could be pretty scary if you taunted him the wrong way.

So I took the walk of pain, all the way up a floor, along the corridor decked with posters of Devilfish’s previous ‘successes’, and into the darkened sanctum that was Max’s office. Could you tell this was a coder’s den? Well, lack of personalization? Check. Multiple monitors providing only light, un-natural or otherwise? Check. Large, un-opened manuals populating every possible surface? Check. Slightly odd odor, reminiscent of old tacos? Check.

But there was something out of place. There was a mass on the floor. It couldn’t be a nerf gun – too large. And it certainly wasn’t the mattress Max used to curl up on after one Red Bull too many, late at night. It was… solid, distressingly solid. I reached for the lights, hoping nobody was around to see me violate the cardinal sin of illumination, and flipped them on.

It was Max, but not entirely how I expected him to be. He was lying on his stomach, his face pressed against the ground, a trickle of blood venting from his mouth, and a pool of red all around his body, anchoring him to the ground, matting the cheap carpet. Jesus. But that wasn’t all the sudden fluorescent lighting revealed. Daubed on the wall crudely, and dripping macabrely, in what appeared to be the coder’s blood, was a straightforward, but now deceptively difficult to accomplish message. It simply read:

‘FINISH THE GAME!’

Oh, and next to the body... jeez. I picked it up and turned it over in my hands. How could they use this to finish him off? Even for someone in the games industry, you’d have to be a sick fuck to even try something like that. I held it to the light, and… well, that was when Jane, the producer, swept into the room, seeing Max’s body, my hands held melodramatically aloft, the horrified look on my face. Shit.

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The best suggestion for a suitable murder weapon will be included in the next part of Alpha? I Nearly Beta, and the submitter credited. Please send suggestions to abrahamo_linconi@hotmail.com